Advent Vespers Service – December 10, 2014
“Then the king said to the attendants, Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
“I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by name.
“Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge”
In the Matthew text darkness is terrifying and frightening. From Isaiah we are told that darkness is a treasure; and the psalmist writes that knowledge is to be discovered in the night.
I begin with words from my childhood: “Vic, Pat, Mike, Tom, Kathy, it’s time to come in the house; it’s getting dark outside.” These words are imbedded in my memory from many years ago. These were the words my siblings and I heard very often when we were kids, words spoken by my mother, when the sun began to set. We knew it was time to stop playing “kick the can,” time to put our bikes in the garage, the football in the shed, and the dog on its leash.
“Come inside now, it’s getting dark,” are also the words with which Barbara Brown Taylor begins her book, Learning To Walk In The Dark.1
No one knew exactly how it worked, but everyone agreed that when night fell, children were gathered inside and the doors were locked. But the inside of the house was totally enveloped in light. And as we were hurried to bed, the night-light in the hallway provided safety from the monsters that might follow us to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Although this insight showed up a lot later in my development, I came to realize that eliminating darkness is pretty high on the human agenda—and not just physical darkness, but also psychological, emotional, relational and spiritual darkness.
And I guess what we mean by “darkness” pretty much depends on what color your monster’s eyes are. What most people do know is that they want to stay out of it. All we need do is mention the word “darkness” and we begin to associate lots of other words: night, nightmare, ghost, graveyard, cave, bat, spider, vampire, death, devil, criminal, danger, doubt, depression, loss, fear.
For me, fear is the main thing. I am deathly afraid of being afraid. For many people, “darkness” is shorthand for anything that scares me, anything I want no part of.
The absence of God is in there somewhere, along with the fear of dementia, and the loss of those who are dearest to us; so is the suffering of children, chronic back pain, cancer, divorce—you name them. If only we could turn on enough night lights!
Here’s the problem. Despite our best efforts, the nightlights sometimes still go out
Here’s a lesson learned. Even when I have been plunged into darkness, the monsters have not dragged me out of my bed, the witches have not turned me into a bat, and I have not died.
And here’s one more lesson: I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have taught me to appreciate life more fully, to love more deeply, to recognize God more readily.
Here’s my conclusion: I need darkness as much as I need light.
So…..I believe that an important part of our spiritual journey is to stop constructing safety zones to keep darkness away, thinking we will then feel safer and more secure. The genuine spiritual journey is much less about avoiding the monsters than it is about embracing the monsters, learning to walk in our darkness. Most people do not want to do this. I do not want this most of the time because I’m still really afraid of being afraid. You can bet walking in darkness is very dangerous!
The darkest darkness in the entire Bible is found in a verse spoken by Jesus from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” [Mk 15:34]. I suspect that was the darkest moment in Jesus’ life, but it is heartening knowing Jesus went through it too.
So I guess what I can best share this evening is that, personally, as I learn to walk in the dark, I learn to see the light more clearly. Maybe I’ve become less afraid of the monsters, wherever they come from in my life. Perhaps I’ve begun to learn the real truth of Baptism—that if dying is the way to life, just maybe darkness is the way to light.
So whatever and wherever your darkness might be this evening, I offer this poem by Marilyn Chandler McEntire as a concluding prayer. It is entitled:
What to do in the Darkness 2
Consent to it,
but don’t wallow in it.
Know it as a place of germination and growth.
Remember the light.
Take an outstretched hand if you find one.
Exercise unused senses.
Find the path by walking it.
Watch for dawn. Amen.
- Learning to walk on the Dark. Barbara Brown Taylor. 2014.(in gratitude to Barbara Brown Taylor for several thoughts from her book shared in this message)
- What to do in the darkness. Marilyn Chandler McEntyre.